The Ark

The Ark

The Ark is a purpose-built cultural centre for children based in the city’s creative quarter, Temple Bar. Expect a busy schedule of theatre, music, exhibitions and workshop catering for ages 2 to 14. 

Our visit

The Ark has been high on my hitlist of toddler friendly things to do in Dublin since we arrived here in late March. As the events are aimed at children aged two and above, I’ve had to hold off until Pea came of age. I couldn’t quite wait until his second birthday though, I just don’t have that kind of willpower. When I started writing this post, it was going to just be about our experience of Grass, a dance production back in September. But I’ve been so behind with my blogging that we’ve been again since, so I’m going to write about our second visit too. Kind of a Buy One, Get One Free type of deal. 

Grass, 27th September

I took a chance and booked this for a then almost 22-month-old Pea in disregard of the age guidance. I don’t make a habit of ignoring age guidance for this type of thing but there’s a dearth of these opportunities in Dublin and I’ve taken Pea to enough shows for young children now to know that he can stay focused in the right conditions. 

Grass features dancing, puppetry and projections in a performance that explores the ground beneath our feet and the creatures that inhabit it. I thought Grass was a beautifully conceived an executed show. Like the best performances for young children, the concept is a simple one with a little bit of educational content (interesting facts about various insects) a playful approach and a lot of surreal fun – the ant dance-off being the highlight for both me and Pea. 

What didn’t really work for us was the seating. We were seated on the floor right in front of the stage. Cute little fake grass mats were provided which I thought might keep Pea distracted. Wrong. What caught his interest was a ceramic plant pot. It looked like just part of the set but in fact was just a clever way of concealing some of the lighting. We were warned not to touch it as it would get hot. So, that was the one and only thing that Pea wanted to get his hands on. I kept trying to prise him away from it and trying to distract him with other things but he just kept going back, as did several of the other children.

So that was annoying for him and stressful for me. He did eventually settle down and were able to enjoy the rest of the show. I don’t mention this to sound nitpicky – I’m not a theatre professional and don’t pretend to understand the challenges of staging any kind of production, let alone one for such a niche audience. I just think it’s interesting that a neat solution to a staging issue had the potential to derail the performance simply due to the tendencies of the target audience. Since we attended Grass Pea has reached the recommended age threshold and I can confidently say that he’s no more capable now of not touching something he wants to touch than he was two months ago. 

Seedlings Early Years Workshop – Slime Symposium, 30th November

Seedlings Early Years Workshops are hands-on, creative workshops for children aged 2-4 and are held monthly at The Ark. When I went to book this a few weeks in advance I discovered it was sold out. I added my name to the waiting list not really expecting anything to come of it. When I didn’t hear anything by the day before, I assumed that was it and made other plans to for my day with Pea.

As it turned out, Pea had a rough night with teething and barely slept. So I barely slept, and then we both did sleep, late into the morning and we missed our window for my planned activity for the day. I couldn’t fire up my burned out brain to devise an alternative plan so resigned myself to
the day becoming a write-off. Then we got a call from The Ark advising that a spot had become available for the 2pm workshop and did we want it? Hell yes, we did. 

The Seedlings workshops are designed and delivered by Artist in Residence Lucy Hill and take a different format each month. The ‘slime symposium’ promised messy play and our own slime to take home. Nice. Lucy started things off by introducing the children to two crates one filled with ‘mud’ (If I recall correctly it was actually chia seeds but looked very convincing) and one filled with seaweed. Pea ignored the mud but happily got into the seaweed, running it through his hands and studying it closely.

After the seaweed fondling, the kids donned cute little smocks and were set to work at their slime making stations. The slime actually was cornflower more chia seeds and food colouring, with various accessories to embellish it with. We had googly eyes and purple glitter, neither of which Pea was all that interested in. He mostly just wanted to stir the slime ingredients around in the bowl and that was fine. Lucy and her team of assistants made the effort to engage with us and demonstrate the wonders of slime but did so in a relaxed, unobtrusive way. The consistency of the slime, by the way, was more doughy and sticky than slimy but it looked pretty and it felt great so no complaints here. 

As well as the slime making, there was a lightbox covered with dyed tapioca balls (the ‘bubbles’ in bubble tea) on top of it that Pea loved playing with. They are satisfyingly squishy to flatten underneath the palm of your hand. Around 10 minutes before the end of the session Pea abandoned messy play altogether in favour of barrelling around the studio. No one said a word or made us feel awkward, which isn’t always the case with similar activities we’ve participated in. 

Essential info

The Ark is at 11a Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Tickets for Grass costs EUR 12.50 each. Tickets for Seedlings cost EUR 11.50 per child/adult pair. The Ark building has step free access, accessible toilet and baby change facility. No cafe on site, but there are numerous options around Temple Bar and Dame Street.


Half Moon Theatre

Half Moon Theatre

Leaf at Half Moon

Half Moon Theatre is a dedicated children’s theatre in Limehouse, East London. Children’s theatre has been one of my favourite activities with Pea but productions targeted at pre-schoolers are few and far between so I’m always on the alert for age-appropriate performances. Half Moon had been on my radar for quite some time, but as it was quite the trek to get there from our (former) corner of south London we didn’t make it until late January and it turned out to be one of our last London adventures before the Dublin move.

Our visit

Our day didn’t start well. My sense of direction is horrific and I rely heavily on the assistance of Google maps to get anywhere. In my efforts to find a step-free route to the venue that didn’t involve a gazillion changes I had about a fifteen-minute walk in a part of London I don’t know well. And, for reasons I couldn’t fathom at the time, I’d been having issues with mobile data on my phone, so no Google maps to come to my aid. To cut a long story short, I got a bit lost, and very stressed. I hate being late for things and the theatre had sent an email the day before with instructions to arrive 10 minutes early. Oh, and the meticulously planned step-free route turned out to not be step free at all, due to my complete misinterpretation of the Mumderground app (it’s actually a really useful app for getting around London if you aren’t a tit like me and read it properly). Also, it was raining. A lot. And I was very, very tired. And insufficiently caffeinated.

It became apparent I was not only not going to be 10 minutes early, but really quite late if I made it all. In fact, I considered just accepting defeat and going in search of a pint of coffee. But since I knew I’d be unlikely to fit in another show at this theatre before the move, I decided to plough on and maybe just sneak in at the back and catch the last few minutes. It turned out I had taken only a minor wrong turn and once I’d figured that out the walk was straightforward. I arrived at the theatre red-faced, rain-sodden and perspiring, expecting to be turned away. Instead, I was greeted by a breezy front of house person who let me take my time de-pramming Pea and removing copious outer layers of clothing from us both. We were then ushered into the performance and even able to sit fairly close to the stage. When I went to mute my phone I discovered that, despite all the fannying about, we were only 5 minutes late.

We were there to see Tam Tam Theatre’s Leaf, a story inspired by the changing of the seasons. As is often the case with theatre aimed at very young audiences, it was very much a sensory experience with the narrative advanced mostly through movement and gestures rather than dialogue (in fact I think it was entirely wordless, but, look I’m writing this in April and we went in January so no certainties). Pea has a decent attention span for this sort of thing, and was quite into it, if anything a bit too into it as I spent most of the time gripping his legs to hold off an unsolicited stage invasion. At the end, the children were invited up onto the stage for free play amongst the leaves. Pea, of course, suddenly became shy and had to be coaxed onto the stage and was then the target of a hostile pacifier takeover attempt by another child.

I was really glad I didn’t give up on this as in the end as the performance was very sweet, gentle and calming and Pea did eventually enjoy lolloping about amongst the artificial leaves. After the show, we spent a bit of time exploring the art materials in the lobby. We would have stayed longer, but we were both starving, so packed up and went in search of grub. I would have loved to have come back here for another production as the whole place had such a relaxed vibe, but it was just not feasible to squeeze in before we left London.

When I got home, I discovered that there was nothing wrong with my phone at all – it had fallen victim to Pea’s tinkering, and he’d somehow managed to switch off mobile data. I think it was deliberate sabotage personally.

Essential info

Half Moon Young People’s Theatre is at 43 Whitehorse Road, London E1. There’s step-free access, baby change facilities and a free play space in the lobby with art materials and a small selection of children’s books. There’s no cafe on site, but check out the theatre’s website for recommendations nearby. Upcoming shows for under 5’s include Kaleidoscope and The Owl and the Pussycat.

Bus King Theatre Christmas Show

Bus King Theatre Christmas Show

Sometimes when I suggest a family outing to my husband, I’m expecting to have to sell it. Not so with Bus King Theatre’s Christmas 2017 show, The Present Predicament. Puppets! On a restored Routemaster bus! Nothing more needed, he was on board (yes, I like the puns okay).

What’s it all about?

The Present Predicament tells the story of a put-upon man who doesn’t know what to get his wife for Christmas. His wife is pretty narky, so he’s a bit stressed about the whole thing. She doesn’t like much, but she does like hamsters. Unfortunately, the man (didn’t take note of his name, whoops) can’t afford to buy a hamster from a pet shop. In desperation, he turns to the next best thing – a London sewer rat. Yep. Naturally, he doesn’t just present his wife with a rat out of a sewer because that would be silly. He gives the rodent a makeover involving bleach and perfume and a blow dry and transforms the rat into Humphrey the Hamster. The hamster is a hit with the Missus and you’d think that would be the end of the dudes problems but you’d be wrong. I’ll leave it at that but what follows is a weird kind of love/hate dynamic between the man and Humphrey. There are some images from this show that will remain with me for a long, long time. One of which was a giant rat poo which had the older children in the audience shrieking with laughter. No pictures of the performance were allowed because the puppets were shy, apparently, but there are images up on the Bus King website now if you want to get a look at Humphrey. You won’t regret it.

Pea remained oddly focused for the majority of the performance, only getting mildly twitchy towards the end. If I’m honest, I’m glad that Pea is too young to really understand what was going on as I wouldn’t have fancied trying to explain to him that its best not to befriend a wild rat. His Dad and I however couldn’t help but be completely charmed and entertained by the deliciously macabre story (it didn’t end well for Humphrey). There was an additional workshop after the show but we didn’t book that as it seemed a little too advanced for Pea. The interior of the bus was has a lovely vintage feel and and was very cosy. Seating was carefully managed to ensure everyone got a decent view of all the action (“Children in front of children and grown ups in front of grown ups).

This was certainly one of our more memorable activities and I’d definitely consider booking another performance if it weren’t for the whole leaving London thing.

Where/When is it?

Spitalfields Market.  The Present Predicament has been and gone now but shows appear to be seasonally based so if you dig this kind of thing keep an eye on the website for future performances. We attended the performance on 23rd December.


The lovely lady in charge will store your buggy on the top deck of the bus or chain it up outside for you (remember the rain cover). As it’s at Spitalfields market there are numerous options for a pre-show coffee or refreshment after. I don’t know if there’s baby change facilities at the market as, owing to Pea evacuating his bowels in spectacular fashion moments before we needed to leave the house that morning, we were not seeking them out on that particular day. Liverpool Street station is just a few minutes away and has a bum changing facilities.